Darkness. Thick black darkness surrounding him, and he was both cold and hot all at once, and there was this golden glow of warmth around his… Well. Even in his dream, Arthur’s mouth twisted wryly. He grinned wryly even while he was diligently rubbing off against something, and he was so close to breaking, so very close, and that golden glow seemed to promise so much, though it was never quite enough, no matter how he chased down the rhythm he never quite…
Vague images came and went: Leon’s besotted hunting dog that had spent an entire season rutting up against his master’s leg and could not be stopped; himself hard against the weight of his chainmail in the midst of an interminable audience with the king, and no way to do anything about it or even shift to relieve the pressure without giving himself away; Merlin on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor, his rear pertly poking up from under the hem of his tunic, and his hand busy working back and forth, back and forth, and –
What the hell was Merlin doing in his dreams?
Arthur shook himself awake, grumbling under his breath, the pleasure already fading, the cold night air already starting to bite. He’d been – God, he was lying face–down on his bedroll, and in his sleep he’d been rubbing off against the thin mattress, the hard ground. Arthur forced himself to turn over onto his back, and glanced across the campfire at his companion, wondering if he’d been caught out.
But, no, the prince’s dignity remained intact, for Merlin was deeply slumbering, snuffling in that infuriating way he had that was louder than breathing but wasn’t quite snoring – the idiot couldn’t even get that right. And in fact, Merlin wasn’t only snuffling, but was also murmuring something in his sleep, a quiet plea of some kind, then a provocative reassurance. Arthur grinned to himself, wondering if Merlin was also being subjected to yearning dreams – and then decided that obviously he must be, when Merlin moaned, and shifted under his blanket –
And in that moment Arthur realised that his own pleasure hadn’t ebbed away after all, the golden warmth still enveloped his cock and balls, and in fact he was as close to breaking as he’d been while dreaming – as close to it and as far from it at the same time, it was almost the perfect definition of frustration, and he didn’t move, he didn’t deign to push up into it – but he began edging his hand down there, thinking to end this torment once and for all – he was easing his hand down slowly, despite himself wanting to prolong it, to feel his fingertips drag down over his shirt, over his skin – though he told himself that really he was just trying to be careful, trying not to wake Merlin –
He was just slipping his hand down within his britches, when the golden glow seemed to convulse around him, and quite coincidentally Merlin whimpered and then cried out, ‘Arthur!’ – and Arthur was coming, he was coming in his britches without even touching himself, and judging by Merlin’s moans it was the same for him – and that golden glow fit around him perfectly, provided the perfect pressure, the perfect warmth, and – oh god…
Finally it began fading away, really fading away this time, as did the pleasure – and Merlin seemed to slip away deeper into sleep, and Arthur forced himself to do so as well, because otherwise he’d have to lie awake and ponder the rather disturbing notion that he and his man servant seemed to have just suffered simultaneous wet dreams.
‘So you are a sorcerer,’ Arthur observes as he circles Merlin, who had just saved them from drowning after a shipwreck by turning them into a shark and an octopus respectively.
Merlin uselessly protests in reply, his eight tentacles undulating haplessly as he tries to explain away the transformations as somehow not involving magic or at least not involving Merlin, all of which is patently ludicrous.
‘Oh, you idiot. Stop babbling and grab on.’ He glides in, and Merlin has the presence of mind to wind his arms haphazardly around Arthur on his way past, and then Arthur stretches, lets a curve of intent ripple back through him, and they are smoothly speeding back towards land.
It is, despite the encumbrance wrapped around him, a beautiful feeling. As a boy Arthur had dreamed about flying like a bird, swooping and soaring like his hunting hawk, but this – this is better. The water slides sleekly along him, intoxicatingly past his gills, and he is suspended in it effortlessly, slicing through it with easy efficiency, in his element in a way he’d never felt in human form.
‘I think I know how to change us back,’ Merlin miserably asserts.
‘You’d better,’ Arthur gruffly replies – even though a part of him protests, a part of him would love to remain strong and sleek and lethal. It really was such a beautiful feeling to propel himself along by flexing his body through this cool clarity – his memories of walking along the ground seem unbearably clumsy and limited by comparison. He wonders what it would be like to use teeth instead of a sword, and hopes there will be an almost unmanageable threat of some kind, wistfully wishes for legitimate prey to appear. For now, the ocean is empty around them but for a school of tiny iridescent fish that are beneath his notice, empty and cool and wonderful, and Arthur is sensitive enough to realise the ocean isn’t all one thing, but that he moves through patches of differing temperatures, differing tensions, swirls and currents of differing forces.
And beyond the joys of moving through this element, there is pleasure, there is real pleasure – in fact, there is a rather intense pleasure where… where Merlin, damn it, wriggles and squirms, his tentacles loosening and then gripping again as he panics, apparently thinking that if he accidentally lets go Arthur won’t come back for him. ‘Merlin,’ Arthur grits out, ‘you idiot, stop moving.’
Merlin tries, Arthur grants him that much, but his efforts are actually Arthur’s undoing, as Merlin tenses and flexes around Arthur’s tail – and suddenly Arthur is learning far more about shark anatomy than he’d ever wanted to know as Merlin despite himself strokes across Arthur’s lower fins and grips exactly the right – wrong – places that… that cause this great wave of pleasure to rise and then crash down through him, and Arthur thrashes despite himself, lost in it, lost in it, sinking…
When coherent thought returns, he starts them moving again, and it takes all the weight of his humiliation to force himself not to answer oh god yes when Merlin asks if he’s all right. ‘Get up here,’ he growls instead, and a very nervous Merlin manages to resettle himself forrard, where he can do little further harm.
Arthur swims on for a long while in silence, until at last he can say, in a deadly even tone, ‘We will never speak of this incident again, do you understand?’
Merlin squeezes him in what is intended to be reassurance, and then winces as he realises that’s not helping anything, and Arthur speeds grimly on.
Maybe twenty of Cenred’s knights and their ragtag followers were camped at the mouth of a valley, guarding the only reasonable path through the mountains to Camelot. Arthur couldn’t afford the delay of heading north to the next nearest pass, which in any case might not even be navigable after the recent snowstorms. He needed to get past quickly, and he could hardly fight twenty knights when he only had Merlin for back–up. So Merlin took the initiative and turned them both into wolves.
‘Huh,’ said Arthur, rolling each massive shoulder back in turn and feeling its strength. Merlin pushed his nose in against Arthur’s enquiringly, and Arthur nodded. ‘Good,’ he decided, and Merlin lifted his head, looking pleased. In fact, Merlin looked… Well. Those cheekbones actually made sense on a wolf’s face, and appeared almost… handsome. Arthur sniffed to himself in disapproval, and turned away.
They padded a quiet winding trail through the undergrowth, and the sentries didn’t even notice the two of them until they were already past the camp – and then Arthur set off at an easy loping pace, Merlin following along behind, and they were out of the range of arrows before anyone had even thought to covet their sleek grey pelts. And wolves were fast and elusive, with great endurance, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to continue up the valley as they were, especially as even Merlin couldn’t be clumsy in wolf–form, not really.
Arthur didn’t stop until they’d crossed the pass, and found themselves in a sheltered little dell where the sun’s warmth was trapped and enhanced, and he knew they were in Camelot once more. He stopped, and stretched, and waited for Merlin to pad up to him. ‘All right,’ said Arthur. ‘Turn us back.’ Merlin did nothing, but nudged his nose gently against Arthur’s again, asking who knew what. ‘Come on, Merlin.’
But Merlin responded with nothing more than a rub of his long cheek against Arthur’s, and then a friendly kind of nip at Arthur’s jaw. ‘Merlin…’ Arthur murmured in low warning, as his heartbeat suddenly picked up – in fear, of course, he was suddenly very afraid of what might happen if Merlin lost his true self somehow in the wolf, and forgot to transform them back into their human forms, forgot that it was even possible let alone desirable.
Merlin was mouthing at Arthur’s muzzle now in what felt suspiciously like kisses, and then he began licking his way up Arthur’s face to his ears, alternating little flicks of the tip with broad strokes from the flat of his tongue, and Arthur said as commandingly as he knew how, ‘Merlin, stop that,’ wishing that it tickled rather than provoked so he could just laugh this off, but then Merlin took a pace forward so that his shoulder was beside Arthur’s, and he gave a careful nudge as if testing – and then a stronger shove – and –
Arthur found himself tumbled over onto his side, in fact rolling a bit further so he was partly on his back with his haunches spread, and Merlin was taking his time, damn him, sniffing down Arthur’s strong rounded ribs, then nuzzling at his narrow belly – ‘Merlin, damn it!’ – then down further still – and how on earth was Arthur even there, how did he find himself there, and why was he lying still for this as Merlin sniffed at his most private places, all of them, and Arthur to his horror heard himself whine in need – and then at last the broad of Merlin’s tongue was rasping at him, rasping, and Arthur was so sensitive that it almost hurt, this exquisite pleasure, oh god it almost…
He broke apart, seed shooting from him as Merlin continued to lick at him, prolonging the torture and lapping up every drop that he spilled. Until at last Arthur shuddered, and pushed over to settle for rest, curling up to tuck away all his tender places.
Merlin nuzzled at Arthur’s muzzle again, and then settled beside him, providing warmth and comfort despite what he’d just presumed to do. And eventually, a moment or two before Arthur finally gathered himself to again make the demand, Merlin pushed his face in against Arthur’s flank, hid himself away, and – and they were human again.
Arthur uncurled himself, against his untoward instincts rolled away from Merlin and stood up. ‘All right,’ he said, biting off each syllable. ‘That was deliberate.’
‘It wasn’t me,’ Merlin said after a long moment, his voice rusty as if it had remained unused for too long. ‘I was… thinking like a wolf,’ he explained, unfolding onto his back with a useless sort of shrug. He looked so very vulnerable lying there like that with his belly undefended.
‘Get up,’ said Arthur. And when Merlin reluctantly did so, Arthur led him back to the path, and they continued on their way to Camelot. ‘Anyway,’ Arthur continued, ‘you were not. If you’d been thinking like a wolf, you’d have gone searching for a female and tried to sire a litter.’
Another useless shrug, and for a while Merlin wouldn’t even glance at him. They trudged on side by side, slow and cumbersome. And Arthur hated that. He’d used to appreciate his own body, he’d worked at it, strengthened and honed it, but now these mad adventures were making it seem far less… efficient than he’d liked to think.
Eventually Merlin cleared his throat, and then muttered, ‘Wolves mate for life, you know.’
Arthur stared at him, utterly appalled. ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Nothing. Nothing at all.’
‘Right,’ said Arthur. And he moved ahead into the lead, set a punishing pace. He’d never been more relieved when the shape of Camelot’s noble towers rose from beyond the sloping horizon.
Arthur leant forward, elbows snagged over his bent knees and hands drooping, and then let his head drop forward, the weight of it stretching the muscles in his upper back while Merlin used a cloth to scrub away at the expanse of skin there and lower, rubbing away the sweat and the grime. When Merlin was done, Arthur commented, ‘Water’s cooling off,’ and a moment later swirls of hot water twirled around him, mixing with the cold. Hot water that hadn’t been fetched in a bucket. Arthur grinned, careful not to let Merlin see it, and then lazed back against the side of the tub, slipping down a little deeper until he was submerged almost to his chin. Though Arthur needn’t have bothered being discreet about his satisfaction, for Merlin was studiously keeping his head down, obviously wanting to stay out of trouble.
And really, after Merlin had proven himself so very presumptuous, Arthur hardly knew why he still let Merlin attend him while he bathed – except that he’d been in the throes of training Merlin to massage out the aches and twinges in his muscles after a work–out with the knights, and Merlin not only had a wiry kind of persistent strength but also very little respect for the prince’s person – evidently – and so felt free to dig his thumbs in to relieve the particularly difficult knots. It was becoming something he was almost good at, much to everyone’s surprise.
Merlin… Merlin who was currently kneeling there on the floor with his hands next together clasping the edge of the bath while he gazed with an attempt at bland innocence at nothing special in a distant corner of the room… Meanwhile, something tried to subtly pat its way around the bottom of the bathtub. Arthur didn’t deign to shift away from it, but lifted his head to confront his man servant directly. ‘What is that?’
‘Merlin,’ he continued suspiciously, ‘what do you think you’re doing?’
‘I’ve lost the soap,’ Merlin announced, somehow both brightly and tentatively.
‘Well, for god’s sake, just find it, would you? Stop fooling around!’
He’d expected Merlin to delve in with a hand – but no, the idiot wouldn’t do the obvious, would he? Suddenly there were more… things… fleshy things feeling their way blindly around the lower parts of the bathtub, and trying not to touch him – except of course they did, and he might have been all right if The Unfortunate Octopus Incident hadn’t already conditioned Arthur to equate Merlin and tentacles and water with weirdness and pleasure.
‘What…?’ Arthur murmured. ‘What?’ His head falling back – and as Merlin glanced at him, one of the things happened to accidentally–on–purpose graze up the inside of his thigh, and then Arthur muttered a resigned, ‘Oh god,’ which seemed to be the cue for them all to suddenly attack him in the gentlest possible way – one snubbed up against his cock and then kind of unrolled itself down his length until he was enveloped, and others nudged at his balls, caressed his thighs – and the pleasure built while Merlin stayed exactly where he was, hands still clasped primly on the edge of the tub, earnest gaze resting upon him as Arthur surrendered his dignity once more. And the presumption, oh the presumption, as Arthur drew close to breaking again, one of the things creeping slowly up to suckle at his left nipple, distracting him and provoking him just long enough so that he didn’t even notice until it was too late too late and he was already breaking apart, and one of the things was… rubbing at the most private flesh of all, at least not broaching him, but still rubbing and then pushing firmly enough to threaten possession and yet delicately enough that it never quite opened him up let alone broke through, and it felt good, damn it, it felt good and the pleasure surged through him as he spent into the water, and then he lay there, both too warm and too cool, head lolling back against the bath edge.
Merlin waited, head lowered in surprising deference. But still he seemed not to expect Arthur at last saying, just very quietly, ‘Go away.’
‘What? Arthur, I –’
‘You heard me,’ Arthur said with no heat or anger at all. ‘Go away.’
Merlin stared at him mutely for long moments. But eventually he had to accept that Arthur meant it. ‘I’ll be back this evening to bring you your supper.’
‘No. No, don’t come back until I send for you.’
‘But, Arthur –’
Arthur turned his head a little to look at the man. ‘Go on. Leave me now.’
And Merlin eventually lowered his head again, and did so.
His days were calm, straightforward, effective and ridiculously dull without Merlin, so eventually Arthur sent for him; the man surrendering rather sooner than the prince would have. He waited for his man servant that evening, sitting in his chair by the fire, impatience making every moment stretch to an hour.
But then when Merlin finally showed up, he just stood there haplessly, somewhere between the door and the chair, and returned Arthur’s wary stare. ‘Yes, sire…?’ Merlin murmured at last.
Arthur harrumphed a bit. Not that he’d expected Merlin to dash in and fall at his feet in a fit of passion or anything, but this wasn’t exactly going very well. ‘I told you I’d send for you,’ Arthur explained.
Arthur narrowed his eyes for a moment. Trust Merlin to make this as difficult as possible. An announcement would obviously have to made. A statement of intent. Arthur cleared his throat. ‘I am not averse to the idea of…’ he spread a hand in the air, then shook it in annoyance, unable to find or voice an appropriate word – ‘with you.’
Merlin looked surprised. And then unflatteringly reluctant. Intransigent, even.
‘Perhaps I was mistaken,’ Arthur coolly continued, ‘but I received the distinct impression that you wanted –’
‘Yes,’ Merlin cut in, ‘I do. I want. That. Yes.’
Apparently Merlin hadn’t found a word for it, either, which probably wasn’t surprising as the only terms Arthur knew were either too crude to apply to someone who had without rhyme or reason become a friend, or too romantic for one man to apply to another. ‘Well, then. What are you waiting for?’
Merlin took a breath, started to say something. Took a step forward and stopped again. Took another breath. ‘How – I mean, what –’ He shrugged helplessly. ‘It’s always just happened before, hasn’t it?’
‘More or less.’
‘So how d’you want it to happen this time? I mean, what –’
‘It’s been perfectly obvious that you know the mechanics,’ Arthur replied, ‘though I dread to imagine where you learned them. This time, however, it’s just you and me, and it’s something we’re both choosing to do. Do you understand?’
‘Yes.’ Merlin was starting to look a little more eager now. More engaged. He took another step towards Arthur, and his expression turned a bit cunning.
‘But you’ll have to do it without magic.’
Merlin halted again, and his face fell quite comically.
Arthur did him the favour of not laughing. Instead he cleared his throat again, and then found he had to glance away before referring to something he hadn’t wanted to even remember. ‘The wolf: that was you, whatever you might claim about what you were thinking at the time.’
‘Yes,’ Merlin allowed.
‘The wolf’s confidence was yours.’ Arthur added in a mutter, ‘His incorrigibility certainly was.’
A huff of breath was perhaps a chuckle. And yet Merlin still hesitated.
‘Well, come on, it’s a simple enough task, isn’t it? Seduce me without magic.’
‘Seduce you…?’ Merlin whispered.
‘Oh god,’ Arthur muttered. And his heart sank as he realised that was exactly what he’d meant all along. He stood from the chair, holding out a calming hand. ‘Merlin, I didn’t –’
But then there was a bit of dashing after all, and Merlin was suddenly there, cupping Arthur’s face in one careful hand, slipping the other around his waist, and then drawing him close and kissing him – kissing him intently, sweetly, hungrily. And from there it wasn’t long at all – It wasn’t far to the bed, and Arthur was undressed by his man servant with surprising efficiency – Within a few dazed moments, he was lying spread naked on the sheets, and Merlin was crouched between his thighs, mouth busily working at Arthur’s cock and his fingers rippling over his balls as if he were massaging them – Then a hand wrapping round him, the thumb pushing up against a particularly sensitive spot just below the flare of his cockhead, and how did Merlin even know about that, palm and long fingers driving him quite wild with what were actually quite gentle tugs – And the pleasure was meant to distract him from the fact that tongue and lips and fingers were exploring lower and lower, and it was tantalising and wrong and tormenting and wonderful and – Oh fuck this was too good, it was too good – ‘Merlin!’ he cried out in his most severe tones.
‘Mmm…?’ came a self–satisfied query.
‘I know what you want…’
‘Mmm…’ The humming agreeable response vibrated along the tender ridge behind his balls that led down – down to –
‘I know what you’re after…’ he continued miserably. ‘You and your… your tentacles!’
A pair of guileless blue eyes peeped up at him from beyond his own rampant cock. ‘Arthur, I swear –’
‘Yes, I do realise that those are your fingers, Merlin.’
Merlin’s hands stilled, resting where they were, and Merlin lifted up so they could talk properly, when really any reasonable man would have realised that talk was about the last thing Arthur wanted right now. ‘Arthur, it’s pretty obvious that makes you feel good. You’re very sensit–’
‘Oh god! Shut up! Now!’
Merlin took his hands away and sat back on his heels. Turned away and shook his head. ‘You could be a bit more grateful, my lord,’ he said when he finally looked back at Arthur. ‘I realise I didn’t mean to at first, but I’ve been pleasuring you –’
‘– with no thought of –’
‘– I never said you couldn’t –’
‘Oh, didn’t you?’
‘No, I didn’t!’
‘Then you could have at least returned the favour!’
‘You were a wolf.’
They glared at each other for a long moment.
And then Arthur couldn’t bear being so exposed – he sat up, shifting back a bit, and he propped his elbows on his bent knees. But when Merlin sighed and seemed about to climb off the bed, Arthur put a hand out. ‘Don’t go, you idiot.’
‘No.’ Arthur gestured at Merlin’s clothes; he was still in tunic, belt, britches and socks. ‘Get undressed. We’ll do this properly.’
Merlin was hesitating. ‘And by properly you mean…?’
‘Not that!’ Arthur grimaced at him. And then found himself saying, ‘Not yet, anyway.’
Merlin considered this, and a corner of his mouth turned up into a smile. ‘Not yet,’ he agreed. Then he started to mutter something, started to gesture towards his own clothes – thought better of it a moment later, rolled his eyes at Arthur in an infuriatingly endearing manner, and wrestled himself naked within a heartbeat or two. His cock was… flatteringly hard. ‘I’ve got another idea, then,’ Merlin said, sinking forward onto his hands and knees, and crowding Arthur until he started lying back down again.
‘Do you, indeed?’
‘Yeah, it’s gonna be brilliant.’
‘I shall be very sorry if this turns out to be the one thing at which you’re competent…’ He was leaning back on his elbows now, and Merlin was still stalking up his body.
‘No, you won’t,’ Merlin murmured, with beguiling confidence.
‘No…’ breathed Arthur as he surrendered, and lifted his arms. And then Merlin was shifting down against him, moving over him, and it was – it was better than powering through the ocean, better than loping along tirelessly, better than anything, to have skin warm against his, a cock eager against his own, arms holding him just as his own encompassed his friend, kept him close – and then Merlin was leaning in to mouth hungrily at his jaw, nudge him with his nose, and then finally to kiss him. And the pleasure was more intense than ever, and he was going to be done embarrassingly soon – but then they could do it again that night, couldn’t they, and again the next morning, and there were so many nights and mornings to come, and – ‘Merlin…’ he whispered as the man thrust confidently against him, watching him with those blue eyes.
‘Give me your hand,’ Merlin whispered in return. ‘Here – wrap us both up together.’
And Arthur looked down, mesmerised by the sight of their cockheads mashed tight together in his own fist.
‘That’s it,’ Merlin was murmuring, his hips starting up again with a gentle, arrhythmic undulation. ‘That’s it, my lord…’
‘My prince…’ Merlin managed a half–smile as Arthur met that appreciative gaze with his own, but Merlin seemed almost as close to breaking as Arthur was. ‘Now your leg. Here – bring it up and hook it round my waist.’
He did so, while Merlin moved over him, apparently having forgotten for now about being clumsy and annoying and eternally frustrating, and instead… instead he was…
Arthur groaned as Merlin’s hand slid down slowly, slowly down the back of his thigh, slower still to palm his rear, to caress and massage it, and it felt so damned good that Arthur didn’t deign to stop him even though he knew what Merlin intended, he knew just what would happen – and in a moment’s rebellion he tried to increase the rhythm the pressure, tried to break Merlin before Merlin could demand this last surrender from him –
But of course he didn’t succeed, Merlin was timing this just as he wanted, just exactly – and it was Merlin who decided when and how, and just as Arthur broke apart, he felt a long narrow finger sliding easily into him, and he helplessly bore down upon it, welcomed it, spread his haunches wider even while their cocks kicked and spurted in his hand, and Merlin cried out then muttered something unforgivable – and they shifted against each other, and kissed, until at last they slowed and cooled and settled.
Then Merlin got them both wrapped up under the sheets and blankets, Merlin was holding him as if Arthur was the most precious part of himself, as if he would always be able to put Arthur back together again afterwards, Merlin was grinning like he’d never ever stop grinning now even if they lived to be a hundred – and Arthur pronounced, ‘Well. That wasn’t so bad.’
Which was when Merlin tickled him.